Children can go missing as a result of being a victim to exploitation, however this isn't always the case. Every situation is different and there are no set rules about when a child should be considered missing. However, if you have any doubts about whether to contact the police formally to report a child missing or you are suspicious of a child being exploited, the police will be happy to discuss your concerns and offer advice about what to do.
We have a dedicated Missing Children page on our website for situations where exploitation isn't involved.
What You Can Do
Know the signs
Children and young people with increased vulnerability:
- Go missing, especially on regular occasions from home or care.
- Have a history of domestic abuse within the family environment.
- Have a history of abuse (including child sexual abuse, risk of forced marriage, risk of honour-based violence, physical and emotional abuse and neglect).
- Have experienced or are experiencing problematic parenting.
- Have parents who take drugs and/or who are alcohol-dependent.
- Have parents with health problems.
- Are young carers within the family unit.
- Experience social exclusion as a result of poverty.
- Have experienced recent bereavement or loss.
- Have unsupervised use of social networking chat rooms/sites.
- Have mental ill health.
- Have social or learning difficulties.
- Have low self-esteem or self-confidence.
- Misuse alcohol and/or drugs.
- Have been or are excluded from mainstream education.
- Are involved in gang activity.
- Attend school with other young people who are sexually exploited.
- Are friends with individuals who are sexually exploited.
- Do not have friends in the same age group.
- Are being bullied.
- Live in care, foster care, hostels and/or bed and breakfast accommodation – particularly when living out of their home area.
- Are homeless.
- Have associations with gangs through relatives, peers or intimate relationships.
- Children from loving and secure homes can also be victims of exploitation.
Indications that a child is being groomed:
- Changes in temperament or suffering from depression, mood swings or changes in emotional wellbeing.
- Secretive behaviour.
- Association with other young people involved in exploitation and having older boyfriends/girlfriends.
- Getting involved in petty crime such as shoplifting or stealing.
- Being absent and truanting, lack of interest and frequent poor behaviour.
- Considerable change in performance.
- Appearing with unexplained gifts or new possessions.
- Change in appearance.
- Family and social relationships
- Children or young people who become estranged from their family.
- Sudden hostility towards family members.
- Becoming physically aggressive towards family and friends.
- Going missing for periods of time or regularly returning home late.
- Involvement in exploitative relationships or association with risky adults.
- Young people being found in towns or districts where they have no known connection.
- Young people who have more than one boyfriend or who share their boyfriend.
- Children or young people seen entering or leaving vehicles driven by unknown adults.
- Becoming detached from age-related activities and social groups.
- Being sexually active.
- Receiving phone calls and/or text messages from unknown adults.
- Children or young people who appear to be recruiting others into exploitative situations.
- Evidence of drug, alcohol and/or substance use. Abusers may use drugs and alcohol to help control children and young people.
- Unexplained physical injuries; for example, bruising suggestive of either physical assault.
- Children or young people who are self-harming and demonstrating suicidal thoughts and tendencies.
Where To Get Help
Always call 999 if immediate risk
If your child is displaying behaviours that suggest there may be a risk of them running away as a result of being exploited Essex police have a dedicated hotline number for parents and carers to report their worries or concerns about potential child exploitation. If you’ve seen something that doesn’t seem right call them on 01245 452058
If your child does not return home when you expect them to and you are worried, in the first instance you should try and find out where they are. Contact relatives or friends to see if they have seen them or know where they are. You should also search your property and local area to see if you can locate them.
However, if your child is missing or has run away from home, you must contact the police. Dial 999 in an emergency situation or call your local police force immediately on 101. You do not have to wait 24 hours before reporting a child missing.
Missing Chat: It is important that children that have gone missing are given an opportunity to talk about their experience with someone who is independent. Missing Chats provide an opportunity to place the child’s needs and experiences at the centre, gives them an opportunity to talk and to be listened to, and to have their feelings and experiences taken seriously. Children who go missing will receive this offer via a letter, a phone call or their social worker (if already involved with the family).
To request a missing chat email missing.returnInterviews@essex.gov.uk
Children and Families Hub: Parents/carers can refer directly to Social Care/Family Solutions via the Family Operations Hub for support about missing children. Further information can be accessed by visiting the website.
UK Missing Persons Unit: Parents/Carers can access advice and guidance fact sheets, created by families of missing persons. They provide advice on many aspects of 'missing', including what to expect during the police investigation. Further information can be accessed by visiting the website.
Railway Children: Parents/Carers can access useful tips on how to address the conversation of running away with their child, as well as key facts and statistics on missing children. Further information can be accessed by visiting the website.